REALTOR® is a trademark; a brand name that separates licensed agents from those who are bound to adhere to a higher standard. Only members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) may conduct business under the REALTOR® brand. A great advantage of working with a REALTOR® is that ALL REALTORS® are bound by the NAR Code of Ethics and must complete training every two years. The code establishes rules, procedures and best practices designed to ensure the highest standards of ethical conduct and professionalism.
The code often establishes rules that exceed the requirements of law. It is frequently adjusted to adapt to the challenges of the ever-changing market, but always adheres to an ethical core that makes working with a REALTOR® a significant advantage. Click here to see the most recent NAR Code of Ethics and Standard Practices.
Pathways to Professionalism
While the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association establishes objective, enforceable ethical standards governing the professional conduct of REALTORS®, it does not address issues of courtesy or etiquette. Based on input from many sources, the Professional Conduct Working Group of the Professional Standards Committee developed the following list of professional courtesies for use by REALTORS® on a voluntary basis. This list is not all-inclusive, and may be supplemented by local custom and practice. [read more below]
Filing an Ethics Complaint
The Southern Maryland Association of REALTORS® is responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. If you feel a REALTOR® has not abided by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, you may wish to file a complaint. The following information is beneficial: "Before You File an Ethics Complaint,"Ethics Complaint Instructions, and the Ethics Complaint Form.
Mediation Services are available for buyers and sellers for dispute resolution. [read more below]
I. Respect for the Public
- Follow the "Golden Rule”: Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.
- Respond promptly to inquiries and requests for information.
- Schedule appointments and showings as far in advance as possible.
- Call if you are delayed or must cancel an appointment or showing.
- Communicate with all parties in a timely fashion.
- Leave your business card if not prohibited by local rules.
- Never criticize property in the presence of the occupant.
- Inform occupants that you are leaving after showings.
- When showing an occupied home, always ring the doorbell or knock—and announce yourself loudly before entering. Knock and announce yourself loudly before entering any closed room.
- Present a professional appearance at all times; dress appropriately and drive a clean car.
- Encourage the clients of other brokers to direct questions to their agent or representative.
- Communicate clearly; don’t use jargon or slang that may not be readily understood.
- Be aware of and respect cultural differences.
- Show courtesy and respect to everyone.
- Be aware of—and meet—all deadlines.
- Promise only what you can deliver—and keep your promises.
- Identify your REALTOR® and your professional status in contacts with the public.
- Do not tell people what you think—tell them what you know.
- If a prospective buyer decides not to view an occupied home, promptly explain the situation to the listing broker or the occupant.
- When entering a property ensure that unexpected situations, such as pets, are handled appropriately.
- If occupants are home during showings, ask their permission before using the telephone or bathroom.
II. Respect for Property
- Be responsible for everyone you allow to enter listed property.
- Never allow buyers to enter listed property unaccompanied.
- When showing property, keep all members of the group together.
- Never allow unaccompanied access to property without permission.
- Enter property only with permission even if you have a lockbox key or combination.
- When the occupant is absent, leave the property as you found it (lights, heating, cooling, drapes, etc.) If you think something is amiss (e.g. vandalism), contact the listing broker immediately.
- Be considerate of the seller's property. Do not allow anyone to eat, drink, smoke, dispose of trash, use bathing or sleeping facilities, or bring pets. Leave the house as you found it unless instructed otherwise.
- Use sidewalks; if weather is bad, take off shoes and boots inside property.
- Respect sellers’ instructions about photographing or videographing their properties’ interiors or exteriors.
III. Respect for Peers
- Identify your REALTOR® and professional status in all contacts with other REALTORS®.
- Respond to other agents' calls, faxes, and e-mails promptly and courteously.
- Be aware that large electronic files with attachments or lengthy faxes may be a burden on recipients.
- Notify the listing broker if there appears to be inaccurate information on the listing.
- Share important information about a property, including the presence of pets, security systems, and whether sellers will be present during the showing.
- Show courtesy, trust, and respect to other real estate professionals.
- Avoid the inappropriate use of endearments or other denigrating language. Do not prospect at other REALTORS®' open houses or similar events.
- Return keys promptly.
- Carefully replace keys in the lockbox after showings.
- To be successful in the business, mutual respect is essential.
- Real estate is a reputation business. What you do today may affect your reputation—and business—for years to come.
The Southern Maryland Association of REALTORS® is responsible for enforcing the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics imposes duties above and in addition to those imposed by law or regulation which apply only to real estate professionals who choose to become REALTORS®. Many difficulties between real estate professionals (whether REALTORS® or not) result from misunderstanding, miscommunication, or lack of adequate communication. If you have a problem with a real estate professional, you may want to speak with them or with a principal broker in the firm. Open, constructive discussion often resolves questions or differences, eliminating the need for further action. If, after discussing matters with your real estate professional or a principal broker in that firm, you are still not satisfied and you still feel you have a grievance, you many want to consider filing an ethics complaint. You will want to keep in mind that...
- Only REALTORS® are subject to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS®.
- If the real estate professional (or their broker) you are dealing with is not a REALTOR®, your only recourse may be the Maryland Real Estate Commission.
- Boards and associations of REALTORS® determine whether the Code of Ethics has been violated, not whether the law or real estate regulations have been broken. Those decisions can only be made by the Maryland Real Estate Commission or the courts.
- Boards of REALTORS® can discipline REALTORS® for violating the Code of Ethics. Typical forms of discipline include attendance at courses and seminars designed to increase REALTORS®' understanding of the ethical duties or other responsibilities of real estate professionals. REALTORS® may also be reprimanded, fined, or their membership can be suspended or terminated for serious or repeated violations. Boards and associations of REALTORS® cannot require REALTORS® to pay money to parties filing ethics complaints; cannot award "punitive damages" for violations of the Code of Ethics; and cannot suspend or revoke a real estate professional's license.
- The primary emphasis of discipline for ethical lapses is educational, to create a heightened awareness of and appreciation for the duties the Code imposes. At the same time, more severe forms of discipline, including fines and suspension and termination of membership may be imposed for serious or repeated violations.
The Southern Maryland Association of REALTORS® can provide you with information on the procedures for filing an ethics complaint. Here are some general principles to keep in mind:
- Ethics complaints must be filed with the Association of REALTORS® within one hundred eighty (180) days from the time a complainant knew (or reasonably should have known) that potentially unethical conduct took place.
- The REALTORS® Code of Ethics consists of seventeen (17) Articles. The duties imposed by many of the Articles are explained and illustrated through accompanying Standards of Practice or case interpretations.
- Your complaint should include copies of contracts and addenda and a narrative description of the circumstances that lead you to believe the Code of Ethics may have been violated.
- Your complaint must cite one or more of the Articles of the Code of Ethics which may have been violated. Hearing panels decide whether the Articles expressly cited in complaints were violated - not whether Standards of Practice or case interpretations were violated.
- The Southern Maryland Association of REALTORS®' Grievance Committee may provide technical assistance in preparing a complaint in proper form and with proper content.
- Your complaint will be reviewed by the association's Grievance Committee. Their job is to review complaints to determine if the allegations made, if taken as true, might support a violation of the Article(s) cited in the complaint.
- If the Grievance Committee dismisses your complaint, it does not mean they don't believe you. Rather, it means that they do not feel that your allegations would support a hearing panel's conclusion that the Article(s) cited in your complaint had been violated. You may want to review your complaint to see if you cited an Article appropriate to your allegations.
- If the Grievance Committee forwards your complaint for hearing, that does not mean they have decided the Code of Ethics has been violated. Rather, it means they feel that if what you allege in your complaint is found to have occurred by the hearing panel, that panel may have reason to find that a violation of the Code of Ethics occurred.
- If your complaint is dismissed as not requiring a hearing, you can appeal that dismissal to the board of directors of the association of REALTORS®.
- Familiarize yourself with the hearing procedures that will be followed. In particular you will want to know about challenging potential panel members, your right to counsel, calling witnesses, and the burdens and standards of proof that apply.
- Complainants have the ultimate responsibility ("burden") of proving that the Code of Ethics has been violated. The standard of proof that must be met is "clear, strong and convincing," defined as, ". . . that measure or degree of proof which will produce a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be established." Consistent with American jurisprudence, respondents are considered innocent unless proven to have violated the Code of Ethics.
- Be sure that your witnesses and counsel will be available on the day of the hearing. Continuances are a privilege - not a right.
- Be sure you have all the documents and other evidence you need to present your case.
- Organize your presentation in advance. Know what you are going to say and be prepared to demonstrate what happened and how you believe the Code of Ethics was violated.
- Appreciate that panel members are unpaid volunteers giving their time as an act of public service. Their objective is to be fair, unbiased, and impartial; to determine, based on the evidence and testimony presented to them, what actually occurred; and then to determine whether the facts as they find them support a finding that the Article(s) charged have been violated.
- Hearing panels cannot conclude that an Article of the Code has been violated unless that Article(s) is specifically cited in the complaint.
- Keep your presentation concise, factual, and to the point. Your task is to demonstrate what happened (or what should have happened but didn't), and how the facts support a violation of the Article(s) charged in the complaint.
- Hearing panels base their decisions on the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. If you have information relevant to the issue(s) under consideration, be sure to bring it up during your presentation.
- Recognize that different people can witness the same event and have differing recollections about what they saw. The fact that a respondent or their witness recalls things differently doesn't mean they aren't telling the truth as they recall events. It is up to the hearing panel, in the findings of fact that will be part of their decision, to determine what actually happened.
- The hearing panel will pay careful attention to what you say and how you say it. An implausible account doesn't become more believable through repetition or, through volume.
- You are involved in an adversarial process that is, to some degree, unavoidably confrontational. Many violations of the Code of Ethics result from misunderstanding or lack of awareness of ethical duties by otherwise well-meaning, responsible real estate professionals. An ethics complaint has potential to be viewed as an attack on a respondent's integrity and professionalism. For the enforcement process to function properly, it is imperative for all parties, witnesses, and panel members to maintain appropriate decorum.
- When you receive the hearing panel's decision, review it carefully.
- Findings of fact are the conclusions of impartial panel members based on their reasoned assessment of all of the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. Findings of fact are not appealable.
- If you believe the hearing process was seriously flawed to the extent you were denied a full and fair hearing, there are appellate procedures that can be invoked. The fact that a hearing panel found no violation is not appealable.
- Refer to the procedures used by the association of REALTORS® for detailed information on the bases and time limits for appealing decisions or requesting a rehearing. Rehearings are generally granted only when newly discovered evidence comes to light (a) which could not reasonably have been discovered and produced at the original hearing and (b) which might have had a bearing on the hearing panel's decision. Appeals brought by ethics respondents must be based on (a) a perceived misapplication or misinterpretation of one or more Articles of the Code of Ethics, (b) a procedural deficiency or failure of due process, or (c) the nature or gravity of the discipline proposed by the hearing panel. Appeals brought by ethics complainants are limited to procedural deficiencies or failures of due process that may have prevented a full and fair hearing.
Many ethics complaints result from misunderstanding or a failure in communication. Before filing an ethics complaint, make reasonable efforts to communicate with your real estate professional or a principal broker in the firm. If these efforts are not fruitful, the Southern Maryland Association of REALTORS® can give you the procedures and forms necessary to file an ethics complaint.
Although the majority of real estate transactions close without incident, there is a possibility that a problem or dispute could occur. When that happens, it is usually successfully resolved by the parties through normal communication and negotiation. In the past, when negotiations failed, parties took their case to court. Today, they are taking their disputes to mediation.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a process in which disputing parties attempt to resolve their disagreements with the help of an impartial, trained neutral third party... the mediator. The mediator does not pass judgment or render legally binding decisions. The mediator's function is to help the parties open communication, identify their differences and reach agreement on how to resolve them. When the disputing parties have reached a mutually acceptable solution, they sign a written agreement which outlines the terms of the settlement. Once the agreement is signed, parties are legally bound to abide by its terms. If the parties cannot reach a mutually agreeable settlement, they are free to arbitrate or litigate their dispute as if the mediation never took place. In addition to being easier, faster and less expensive than litigation, mediation is non-adversarial. Decisions rendered by an arbitrator or judge usually determine a winning and losing party. In mediation the parties have retained control of the outcome of the process and together have fashioned the terms of the settlement.
Procedural Guidelines have been established to insure uniformity and consistency in the process. Procedural guidelines are available upon request by calling the Mediation Service Provider, O.M. Services at 888-412-6740. You will be requested to provide your name and address and information will be mailed to you within 24 hours. Any questions you should have regarding the procedures should be directed to O.M. Services.
Parties who decide to submit potential disputes to mediation sign a written Agreement to Mediate. Parties can sign this agreement either before or after a dispute arises.
The mediators are experienced and have completed an intensive training program. Mediators are selected based on considerations such as firm affiliation, location, expertise in area of dispute, and availability. Role of Attorney Although parties have the right to be represented by counsel, attorneys do not have to participate in the mediation conference. Parties should consult an attorney if they have questions or concerns about mediation.
Any party can request mediation by contacting the mediation service provider and simply returning the written request form(s) provided to them. The mediation service provider arranges, schedules and conducts the mediation conference. Generally the conference is held within 60 days of the date on which the mediation service provider receives a request to initiate mediation. Usually it is scheduled within 30 days. The typical conference lasts between two and four hours. To request a mediation packet and/or for information, please contact the Mediation Service Provider: O.M. SERVICES 960 W. Pulaski Highway Elkton, MD 21921 888-412-6740
Fees for mediation services are established by the mediation service provider and are published and available through O.M. Services. Please check with O.M. Services for further details.
Facts About Mediation
Mediation is faster than litigation. A lawsuit can take anywhere from several months to several years to be decided. As a rule, mediation takes about thirty to sixty days from beginning to end. Mediation is generally less expensive than litigation. Because parties typically split fees and costs, no one pays an excessive amount. Mediation is non-adversarial. Arbitration and litigation focus on disagreements between the parties and result in win-lose decisions imposed by the arbitrator or judge. Mediation, on the other hand, focuses on agreement between the parties and results in a win-win settlement reached and agreed on by the parties themselves. Parties who agree to mediate retain the right to pursue other legal remedies. If parties cannot reach a mutually acceptable settlement during the mediation conference, they are free to arbitrate or litigate their dispute as if mediation never took place.
Statistics show that MEDIATION is SUCCESSFUL the majority of the time.